Bluezone CEO on reinventing life insurance for diabetics

Dr Karan Mehta, co-founder and CEO of the UK insurtech startup Bluezone, tells us how the company is redefining life insurance for the chronically ill

Life insurance is a safety net for when the worst thing happens. But all too often, those with chronic health conditions find themselves out in the cold. Either the premiums are too high, or, they are told they are simply uninsurable. This is despite the fact that their increased vulnerability means they, more than most, require the backup of a solid life insurance policy. 

One keen medic, inspired by personal experience has decided to challenge that view and create a new insurance service for those people that need it most. Dr Karan Mehta recently launched Bluezone (named so because the world’s healthiest hotspots are referred to as blue zones) using the latest technologies to enable underwriting that pays out to those most in need. 

The insurtech is set to roll out its first products later this year, which will cater initially to those with diabetes. According to data from Diabetes UK, there are an estimated 415 million people living with diabetes globally - a condition that is often seen as ‘uninsurable’ by incumbent and traditional life insurance companies. We caught up with him to find out more. 

What’s your background, and what led you to the insurtech space? 

I am qualified as a doctor and worked in clinical medicine for several years with the sole purpose of improving the health of humans. However, this left me feeling dissatisfied because of the number of problems I noticed. Firstly, there is an imbalance in demand and supply of healthcare resources – too many patients but too few healthcare professionals leading to an overworked workforce. Secondly, the impact that I could have was limited to the patients on the ward or in the surgery. Finally, my job was about fine-tuning the doses of prescribed medication because of the reactive nature of the healthcare system instead of taking a proactive approach to treating the root causes of illnesses.

This led me to embark on a journey to develop a scalable and proactive solution that could potentially help millions of individuals and hopefully result in alleviating some of the pressure we’re facing in healthcare systems. I worked at a number of healthcare startups and developed a thesis: understanding the risk of an adverse health event occurring is the first step to improving one’s health. By understanding these risks, we can also better understand the set of behaviours that are mitigating that risk and these can be communicated to individuals to empower them to make better lifestyle decisions.

This thesis drew me to the insurance industry as (re)insurers are experts at risk estimation through the process of underwriting. Further, the industry is uniquely positioned to improve the health of its customers due to the underlying shared value business model. By de-risking customers, insurers make fewer claims and in principle become more profitable. In the context of life insurance, this means decreasing mortality risk. Hence, the future of the insurance industry will be about being the best at risk estimation and risk mitigation.

Tell us about Bluezone - what does it encompass?

We’re a team of doctors, AI and behavioural scientists looking to make life healthier and fairer for each person living with chronic disease. Life insurance is our business – and we’re doing that business differently.

Every single policy will be built differently. Because every person is built differently. We’re offering policies for the person, not the condition. This means we’ll offer a fully personalised, precise plan, along with offering insights and support to consistently improve health. 

It’s insurance made fairer, for futures made healthier. Why Bluezone? Well, there are five regions around the world where people are living longer than average. They’re called ‘blue zones’.

The secret to that longevity? It’s being in an environment that encourages healthy living through nutrition, exercise, stress management, purpose, and community. In fact, each of our bodies has the capacity to heal itself, if the conditions are right.  

We believe in building sustainable habits for the long term by taking a slow, deliberate and methodical approach to help you realise your ideal future version. 

What inspired you to launch it? Is there a story there? 

While learning about the insurance industry, my Type 2 Diabetic uncle explained the problems he faced when trying to buy life insurance. He was rejected several times, premiums were expensive, and the application process was long and cumbersome. Individuals with other chronic illnesses such as heart disease experience similar issues. As the prevalence of chronic illnesses is significantly increasing, this segment of the population needs to be better served.

Hence, Bluezone Insurance was founded. We have taken a first-principles approach to develop the most powerful medical underwriting risk engine using sophisticated AI/ML techniques and large medical datasets as part of my PhD research. This will offer customers cheaper and fairer premium prices and a digital and streamlined onboarding process. We will also refer our customers to a health/wellbeing marketplace of lifestyle apps that will help these customers lead healthier lifestyles and de-risk them.

How does it work - and are the premiums on a par cost-wise with cover for people without chronic illnesses? Or, is it generally more expensive?

We are aiming to provide same-day life insurance approval for anyone living with type 2 diabetes. There are no medicals - just a simple questionnaire, it's a 100% online application. The whole process only takes  about 10 minutes - or within a matter of days if they need to do some home testing

For cases that are currently referred to medical underwriting or who have been previously declined, we are able to provide same-day cover which is significantly quicker than the alternatives which take on average 3 months to offer cover. 

We are also able to offer cover to a proportion of individuals that have been declined by others. 

What kinds of protection benefits do the policies offer - and how quickly are claims processed? 

Our life insurance product is for term life, level & decreasing - with a maximum cover amount of £350,000. Entry ages range from 19 years - to 71 years old (max. cease age up to 91 years) and the Term is from 5 - 30 years. Customers have the option to underwrite every six months to receive personalised rewards if their health improves. We have a lifestyle app to encourage healthy behaviour  to empower you to live a happier, longer life.

What technologies have you leveraged to drive Bluezone?

We have developed a risk engine (PURE) through the application of deep learning survival models on large electronic health care datasets. Our new AI-based tech allows us to generate precise loadings, use exact risk factor values, understand the complex relationships between individual health variables, output highly accurate/precise personalised loadings instantaneously, and identify new risk factors / underwriting questions that improve the accuracy of underwriting 

Where is it available? Which regions and marketplaces, and what are your plans for the future?

We are launching our T2D life insurance product in the UK later this year. Customers are able to sign up for the waitlist now. Once live, customers will be able to acquire cover directly via our website - or via specialist insurers, brokers, and price comparison websites

To answer the question “why am I selling insurance instead of treating patients?” more directly, I would answer that I believe the future of insurance is to take a much more active role in mitigating risk. I hope the path I have chosen will allow me to improve the health of millions of human lives in the most effective way, by understanding adverse health event risks and delivering proactive healthcare.”

Our wider plans for the future include expanding our life insurance offering to international markets such as the US, increasing insurance products to people with type 2 diabetes, and offering critical illness cover and life insurance products for other chronic conditions, for example, heart disease.

Dr Karan Mehta, CEO and co-founder of Bluezone

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